I have an intense fear of heights. Some people find this humorous in that I’m 6’4”, as if I must be afraid to walk around. It’s paralyzing, this fear – my heart races, my body sweats and I feel myself falling forward, unconsciously compelled (like a magnet) to throw myself over the edge. Suffice to say, I keep long distances from overhangs, porches and the windows of tall buildings. Fear can sometimes be a good thing – protection from foolishness or fool-heartiness. However, fear often keeps our faith within walls and hinders how we hear God’s will for our lives. I learned this the hard way. Yet even in my lessons learned, I still build my walls and of course, fail again. Perhaps this story will touch some of you in some way, as a lesson in the consequences of fear.
I was working for a talented, nationally recognized firm several years ago, but had felt stuck and hovered over. I wanted to work somewhere, where I could flex a bit, and have more control. Around this time, some other guys (from the same firm) decided to leave, and we formed our own company, a “partnership”. Things were going well. We garnered larger clients, awards, accolades and a steady flow of income. I was happy and superficially content. My wife and I had our first child within that year. My heart was beginning to change.
Things were okay, but I never felt as if I was a part of the small culture within which I was surrounded. Just five of us, all guys, and I was the only Christian. Miscommunication, machismo, ego and testosterone flowed from the walls. I felt a pull to fit, but I could not – not without compromising things, I would not compromise like:acceptance of porn, strip clubs, those sorts of things.
I began to loath waking up in the morning. I began to arrive later and later to work. My stomach churned with anxiety every time I walked the alley to the office. The work we did was no longer what I had envisioned. My status as “equal partner” felt regulated to “your opinion”. I was discouraged from meetings and not included (which I later learned) in key decisions. I questioned my talent, my drive, desire and my purpose. I became angry. My wife and my family suffered through my self-doubt and depression. Deep inside, I knew I should leave, but inside I was saying, don’t ruin the stability.
Then one day I stumbled upon a message board for graphic designers, one specifically designed for “us” to vent about clients, life, work, etc. It felt like heaven. I aired my grievances. I spouted my venom about where I was. This stupid rant, I realized later, would come full circle. In any case, I needed a break, so we traveled to my parents in September, to remove ourselves from a bit of responsibility. For once, in a long time, I did not work. I did not check my emails. I unplugged and I felt relieved, but somewhere lingered a suspicion and distrust. Fear.
It was Monday and the sky was the bluest I had ever seen it, cloudless and pure. My wife, kids and I had a wonderful break, and were heading to the Philadelphia airport to catch a flight back home.. As we arrived to our gate, we noticed a crowd gathered around the TV. They seemed to be watching two chimneys of smoke. Then I realized what it was, it was the World Trade Center. Flights were cancelled, and I was so anxious and distraught that I became sick.
A few days later, we drove back home in my parents’ van. The next day, I called one of the partners; it was the weekend and he did not answer. I called another partner, no answer. I checked my email and got an error that read account no longer exists. I drove to the office, but my key did not work. Were we robbed; were we sued? I knew what fear had told me; this was my fault. The next day, I called into the office to tell them I was running late.
"Hey, I’m back, I’ll be getting there in about a half hour."
On the other end, all I heard was a paused, uneasy silence.
"Yeah, umm, we have talk."
"Just come in."
Instinctively, I knew what lay ahead, but wasn’t sure how I would handle it. I was dizzy with fear and doubt. My hands shook. What will I do? How will I support my family? Why is this happening? Why me God?
I walked through the alley, as fear suffocated me, wrapping its darkness around my mind and heart. I went up the elevator and through the door. There was my desk, but my computer gone. There remained a pile of books and papers, with all the guys standing around it, arms crossed, as if I were going to start a brawl. My blood boiled in anger and despair; I had to fight for my life right here, right now. There were papers to sign, to absolve our relationship and to inform me of my ills. I was fired for disparaging remarks against the company, and for taking “claimed” outside income from the company. My head spun at the accusations, but all I could say was, “Mature way to handle it, what are you, a second grader?”
I signed on the line. I said some things and looked at no one. I left never to see their faces again. They demanded payment from those freelance jobs to which I donated my work, one specifically for a Christian client. I got a lawyer and countered with wrongful termination. I felt I had nothing to show for 3 years of work, except a bruise from being too candid and not watching my words. I felt violated and spied upon.
This was my own doing. I was culpable for my foolishness, for losing my head. It may have been the result of hurt feelings, or of greed, or resentment, perhaps, but none of the pain mattered if I did not learn.
I learned the hard way about the paralysis of fear. I should have listened to what God was trying to tell me. I stayed, out of fear and a lack of faith. The fear of failing on my own, of having no talent, and of being alone. I didn’t allow God to be God: the God who promised to provide and protect. My fear clouded me and came out in ways that I cannot take back; I was a fool. God did what He intended, despite my fears and indecisiveness. I learned that contentment is more than a steady job and paycheck, it is about our choices. Whether it’s a lack of making a choice or making the leaps of faith, God is faithful, even if we are not.